Why Your Daily Standup Sucks (and how to fix it)

Jared Carroll ·

The daily standup is the “Hello World” of agile development. It’s a daily, 15-minute meeting, about the current status of a project. Each participant answers three questions: what did I do yesterday, what am I doing today, what is in my way. Sounds simple, right? However, it’s surprisingly easy to turn a standup into another useless meeting.

Let’s look a few common standup “smells” and how to fix them.

Too Much Detail

Excessive rambling will lose everyone’s attention. Keep it short. Summarize like you would in a resume. If someone needs more information, talk to them after the standup.

People are Unprepared

It’s a daily standup, it happens everyday at the same time; it’s not a surprise meeting. Show up on time and come prepared. Review your logged time, source control commits, or in flight stories before standup.

If you’re leading the standup, start and run the standup in a consistent way. Make it obvious to people when it’s their turn to speak and who’s next. Don’t randomly choose people to speak. When leading a standup that includes both local and remote people, establish and follow an overall order across all locations.

Too Much Problem Solving

The daily standup is only a status update. It’s not the time for discussion or problem solving. Your mantra is: “take it offline”.

Setting a time limit for each person is a great way to avoid problem solving. If a few people start to go off on a tangent, regain focus by encouraging them to “take it offline.”

Trying to Remove Blockers

Deal with blockers after the standup. A simple “I can help you with that” from another person is enough.

After the standup, put blockers on a whiteboard to ensure they’re addressed. Just don’t bring the whiteboard to the standup and waste time adding blockers to it.

Starts Too Late

The daily standup starts your day. It’s important to find a time that isn’t too late in the day because developers often don’t start working until after the standup. You don’t want the standup to be halfway through someone’s day, so try to get the team to work relatively similar hours.

If you’re using voice or video conferencing, ensure it’s setup before the standup. Appoint someone to be responsible for this setup and make sure everyone knows who it is.

Once you find a time, start the standup at that time everyday. And don’t wait for anyone.

Constantly Interrupted by Observers

It’s sometimes common at a standup to have people who are not there to participate, only to observe and check on the status of the project.

Observers are often not familiar with standup meetings. Ensure they know the rules to prevent them from interrupting or sidetracking the standup.

Over-reliance on Tools

Avoid using any external tools such as Pivotal Tracker. The standup is not the time to review all the stories that are currently in flight. It’s far too easy to get distracted using tools, lose focus, and waste time.

Keep It Simple

The consensus on standup length is 15 minutes or less. Efficient standups, even with a fairly large team of say 12, often take less than 10 minutes.

If your standup is starting to feel painful, look for some of the above smells. Most of them are due to people not keeping it simple. Simplify and prove you’re agile by continuously addressing these problems and perfecting your standup.

What do you do to keep your daily standup simple?